The US Navy has announced that an aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan has entered South China Sea as part of a routine mission.

This is the first time that the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group started operating in the disputed waterway during its 2021 deployment.

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The strike group is conducting maritime security operations in the South China Sea.

The scope of activities includes flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.

In a statement, the US Navy said that carrier operations in the sea are part of its routine presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander rear admiral Will Pennington said: “The South China Sea is pivotal to the free flow of commerce that fuels the economies of those nations committed to international law and rules based order.

“It is both a privilege and a pleasure to work alongside our allies, partners, and joint service teammates to provide full spectrum support to key maritime commons and ensure all nations continue to benefit from a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Apart from the aircraft carrier, the current strike group includes Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97).

According to a Reuters report, the entry of US warships in the South China Sea has increased in the recent years to challenge China’s territorial claims in the contested waters.

In April, Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) entered the South China Sea for the second time this year.

USS Russell (DDG 59), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the US Navy, conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the waterway in February.

The South China Sea holds significant economic importance. Around one-third of global maritime trade, roughly $3.5trn, passes through the sea annually.